Photographs by David Gottschalk
Dakota Hays (right) and Levi Balentine, both with Contractors Inc., replace a window Wednesday in one of the apartment units at the Southmont Apartments on Curtis Avenue in Fayetteville. Emet Capital Management out of New York bought the complex in December and has begun a multimillion-dollar renovation campaign under the new name Highpoint Apartments that should wrap by the end of the year.
Monday, April 16, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE -- Tenants at a dilapidated apartment complex in the south part of town won't have much longer to wait until they get new spaces to live.
Southmont Apartments at 1101 S. Curtis Ave., once on the verge of being condemned, is getting new life breathed into it.
Project-based Section 8 housing is a government-funded program that provides rental housing to low-income households in privately owned and managed rental units. The subsidy stays with the building; when tenants move out, they no longer have the rental assistance.
A multimillion-dollar renovation and revitalization is underway. New York-based Emet Capital bought the property in December for nearly $1.5 million.
Emet buys and revitalizes distressed multi-family housing complexes across the country, according to its website. The company buys properties eligible for government assistance at a discount to keep them affordable for low-income residents, rehabilitates them, then sells or refinances at a higher price.
Work has started at the complex with a finishing date set for the end of the year. The 12 buildings all have new roofs and gutters. There's proper lighting outside at night. The gutted insides of vacant units fill bulky waste containers in the parking lot.
Living at Southmont is getting better, although it's still not ideal, said Kimberly Winner, a tenant of about 2½ years. Her car was stolen a few weeks ago, Winner said. Violent incidents seemed more commonplace when she first moved in, she said.
Winner said she's glad to see the new owners appear to care about the property.
"I guess I hope that they actually fix the problems instead of just coming in and putting a fresh coat of paint over crumbling issues that are here," she said.
All 88 units at Southmont are project-based Section 8, the federal assistance program for low-income residents. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers the program.
Emet has a 20-year contract with HUD. There's also a use agreement in place to ensure the property stays accessible to low-income residents no matter who owns it, said Patricia Campbell with HUD's regional office out of Fort Worth.
Even if rent goes up, tenants will pay no more than 30 percent of their adjusted income, which is what they pay now, Campbell said.
"This is a win-win situation for everyone," she said. "The new owners are putting more than $3 million in improvements into the property, the units will remain affordable, and an improved property upgrades the neighborhood."
Eight apartment complexes in Fayetteville have Section 8 contracts, Campbell said. Those total 431 units, 21 of which are for tenants with disabilities.
The goal is to create decent, safe and affordable housing for people who need it, said Paul Siegel with Emet.
"From a tenant perspective, they will see nothing but improvements," he said. "They will not pay anything extra because their rent is based upon their income. And they will get a fully renovated property."
The complex has had five owners since it was built in 1973, according to property records. Management companies historically have turned over quickly, city officials said. Last year the city was looking at ways to either get the place fixed or have it condemned.
Tenants describe the units as crumbling. Police fielded more than 300 calls in the first half of 2017, an average of about 50 per month. Officers started regularly patrolling the area last summer.
Since then, the frequency of calls has dropped by more than half. Police report 208 calls since July, most of them for extra patrols or general disturbances.
In August, 17-year-old Kaiden Fritch was found dead in the one of the apartments. A fire caused about $80,000 worth of damage to one of the buildings in October.
Each building now has a water shutoff valve. The complex had numerous plumbing issues, and if water ran down the street from a break there was no way to turn it off, said Keith Kozark with Emet. The result was high utility bills for tenants and a challenging task for maintenance crews, he said.
About half the units are vacant. Those will be renovated first, and after they're finished by the end of May, tenants in other apartments will move in. Crews will then work on the vacated units from June to December.
New air-conditioning units, windows, doors and locks are being installed. Kitchens will get new cabinets, countertops, appliances, flooring and lighting. The bathrooms will have new toilets, vanities, tub surrounds and lighting.
There also are plans to renovate the office building, put up fencing and new signs.
The complex no longer would be known as Southmont. It will become Highpoint Apartments.
Residents will have a chance to answer surveys about what else they'd like to see done to the place once more work is finished.
Sugar Brown spent a sunny Wednesday afternoon on the complex's playground with her 2-year-old son, Troy; her father, Michael; and 6-month-old daughter, Opal.
She kept a close eye on Troy as he traversed the cracked, rusting equipment. It's the same equipment Brown played on when she lived at Southmont about 15 years ago.
It used to be worse in those early days, Brown said. A lot of the people who were causing chaos have moved out. South Fayetteville generally hasn't gotten as much attention as other parts of the city, such as the northern part of town, Brown said, and she welcomed the revitalization effort.
"Up there, there's like nice cars and nice places, and all the roads are really smooth," Brown said. "You come down here, and it's kind of podunk."
NW News on 04/16/2018
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